If Hillary Clinton were going to face a serious challenge in the coming 2016 Democratic primary, it would have become clear by now who that challenger would be. A Clinton machine that cannot tolerate any internal opposition whatsoever has successfully intimidated all of the former secretary of state’s most effective potential competitors. Those who have signaled their intention to challenge Clinton in the primaries inspire no enthusiasm among the party’s activist base.
But while Clinton has a prohibitive lock on the Democratic nomination, not everyone in her party is thrilled about that prospect. In fact, a growing number of Democrats count themselves members of the “anybody but Hillary” camp.
If Clinton has a Democratic electorate to fear, it is Iowa’s caucus-goers who already deflated her presidential ambitions once. The Granite State’s more establishmentarian base of Democratic primary voters are far less inclined to take a gamble on an exciting but untested newcomer. But a new Franklin Pierce/Boston Herald poll suggests that many of New Hampshire’s Democrats are growing increasingly nervous about their presidential 2016 nominee.
The good news for Clinton in this latest survey of New Hampshire Democrats is that the scandals that have engulfed her undeclared presidential campaign have not harmed her standing among Democrats in the same way that it has with general election voters. Whereas Clinton’s favorability and trustworthiness ratings with voters in swing states have collapsed, and she now trails Jeb Bush in a head-to-head matchup in Florida according to a Quinnipiac University survey, more than two-thirds of New Hampshire Democrats believe Clinton’s email practices and her misleading attempts to excuse her conduct are “not that serious.” What’s more, Clinton’s favorability rating among Granite State Democrats remains astronomical.
But this is not translating into electoral support. When asked what Democrats they would support at the polls in February of 2016, 47 percent of New Hampshire Democrats backed Clinton. Another 22 percent put their support behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 10 percent said Vice President Joe Biden. Another 16 percent backed a minor candidate, adding up to a grand total of 48 percent backing someone other than Clinton. That’s right: “Anyone but” narrowly edges out Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
What Clinton has going for her right now is the fact that only former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley seems inclined to mount a presidential bid at this time (though Biden is, as ever, tanned, rested, and ready to run). And O’Malley only drew 1 percent support among New Hampshire Democrats in this survey. When these voters were asked who the nominee will be, 65 percent said it would obviously be Clinton. But it seems like a growing number of Democrats are willing to indulge in the fantasy that an alternative to Clinton might emerge.
This poll is not an outlier. The GOP firm Gravis Marketing surveyed the political landscape in New Hampshire from March 18 to 19 and found Clinton polling at 49 percent support with Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) drawing most of the anti-Clinton vote. This is a far cry from early February and late January, before Clinton’s scandalous conduct as secretary of state had been exposed in the press. An NBC News/Marist survey released in early February found Clinton drawing the support of nearly 70 percent of New Hampshire’s Democrats.
None of this is to say that the nomination is up for grabs. It’s not. Team Clinton has clear-cut the field and salted the earth behind them. There will be no real challenge to Clinton’s primacy, but this survey suggests that Democrats remain uncomfortable with the coronation process. If the sitting Vice President of the United States cannot serve as a reasonable alternative to Clinton for partisan Democrats, no reasonable alternative exists. Come 2016, Democrats may end up casting a ballot for Clinton, but a sizable minority are indicating that they won’t much like it.